Presentation - The Happy Invention: The History and Significance of Picture Postcards

The first picture postcards were published for the 1889 Paris Exposition, celebrating the completion of the Eiffel Tower. In America, the first picture postcards were printed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago — making Illinois the birthplace of the American picture postcard. Since those flowery Victorian originals, uncountable billions of postcards of every aspect of life have been printed, depicting: train stations and bandstands; street views and cartoons; ads for products and services; beauties and freaks; social history both whimsical and dark; and everything in between. An early mention of postcards is in the 1870 diary of a Welsh curate, who called them”a happy invention.”

In 2016, the world’s largest public collection of postcards and related materials, the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, was given to the Newberry Library by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Katherine Hamilton-Smith, the founding curator of the Teich Archives, presents a look at the documentary power and significance of picture postcards. She touches on the Curt Teich Company of Chicago, the role Illinois played in the history and development of postcards, and on the picture postcard as a cultural icon.

This presentation is a lavishly illustrated PowerPoint of about 50 minutes in length, plus questions/answers at the conclusion of the prepared remarks. Each presentation is tailored to the town in which it is being given by weaving examples of postcards from that town into the program.

The host organization will need to provide a laptop, screen, and projector.

Program Topics

  • History
  • Picture Postcards
  • Illinois

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Katherine via email, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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About Road Scholar Katherine Hamilton-Smith

Katherine Hamilton-Smith is the founding curator the Curt Teich Postcard Archives for the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Ms. Hamilton-Smith was responsible for creating and developing the archives. She managed its growth, working with private collectors and other institutions to create the unparalleled assemblage that was acquired by the Newberry Library in 2016 and is now one of the Newberry’s 11 Core Collections. Ms. Hamilton-Smith is currently Director of Public Affairs & Development for the Lake County Forest Preserves.

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About Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau

Since 1997, our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau has invited Illinois writers, storytellers, historians, folklorists, musicians, and living history actors, among others, to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people throughout our state. It also supports local nonprofit organizations – including libraries, museums, arts councils, historical societies, civic groups, and many others – in presenting free-admission cultural programs of high quality to their communities for a modest application fee, which can be waived if your organization is experiencing financial hardship.

Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau roster features speakers hailing from many different communities across Illinois who offer presentations on topics in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature, theater, film, music, politics, and other subjects that are thought-provoking and engaging. The breadth of these offerings reflects our conviction that the humanities can help us to examine the world in all its varied shades and discover in it the remarkable, the strange, the fantastic, the tragic, the humorous, and the beautiful.

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